Defying China Coast Guard, Philippine Navy Finishes Supply Mission
Defying earlier interference from the China Coast Guard, Philippine Navy supply vessels have reached the military outpost at Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal), delivering food and other needed goods to the island's small garrison.
The supply run was a second attempt to resupply the outpost on the shoal, which is claimed by both nations but has been occupied by Philippine forces since 1999. On the first try, three China Coast Guard cutters used their water cannons to repel the smaller Philippine suppy vessels, forcing them to turn back.
The forceful Chinese interference drew an angry response from Manila. In Washington, a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson warned that "an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments" under a longstanding treaty with Manila.
After diplomatic engagement with the Philippine government, Chinese forces drew down their presence at Second Thomas Shoal and signaled that they would not interfere with a second mission. On Tuesday, Philippine Navy Vice Adm. Ramil Roberto Enriquez reported that the resupply mission had been completed without further incident.
This drama played out as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) opened its annual summit on Monday, a key moment for Chinese maritime diplomacy. Beijing is pushing ASEAN's members to adopt a long-debated "code of conduct" for the South China Sea; China claims the vast majority of the region as its own "inherent territory," including wide swaths of its neighbors' exclusive economic zones, creating constant friction over sovereignty and resources.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who hosted the virtual meeting, took time to assert that China is not a threat to its neighbors. "China was, is, and will always be a good neighbor, good friend, and good partner of ASEAN," Xi said in opening remarks. "China will never seek hegemony, much less bully smaller countries.”
In his opening statement, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte presented a different perspective. Though Duterte has been criticized in the past for tolerating Chinese infringement in Philippine waters, he spoke out against the encounter at Second Thomas Shoal.
"We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments," Duterte said. "This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership."